In 2010, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released data relaying the drastic increase of obesity in the United States. More than 33 percent of Americans are now obese, and no state in the nation has less than a 20 percent obese population. At the same time, it seems as though everyone has an explanation for our ballooning waistbands. P
People like Michael Pollan, food activist and writer of In Defense of Food, points to one particular flaw in the Western diet: the massive consumption of corn products and sweeteners. The biggest corn culprit is, as you may have guessed, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The product is found in many foods Americans eat daily, from bread and sauces to lunch meat and sodas. In fact, it is so prevalent and in so many of the foods we consume that Americans eat an annual estimated average of 140 pounds of HFCS.
However, when scientists and journalists began to suggest that the consumption of HFCS could actually be causing obesity, especially when it replaces table sugar, the corn industry launched a campaign to contend that HFCS is “natural,” and should be renamed and re-branded “corn sugar.” Magazine, newspaper, and television advertisements were placed by the corn industry arguing for the safety of HFCS, maintaining that it is just as healthy as regular sugar. However, at the same time, many corporations selling foodstuffs persisted in replacing the HFCS in their products with “real” sugar, and still touted the fact that their products—things like ketchup, juice boxes, and pasta sauces—did not contain HFCS.
The larger food industry continues to send the American people a lot of mixed signals about HFCS. While some people are scared to consume it, or feed it to their children, there’s no denying that Americans still persist to eat many, many products with HFCS. In September of 2011, the Western Sugar Cooperative, in conjunction with other U.S. sugar-beet and sugar-cane growers, sued the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and companies like Cargill for “food identity theft,” claiming that the CRA is falsely advertising when they call their HFCS things like “natural” and “no different than sugar.” However, the sugar industry’s motives for the lawsuit are also being put to question, as they have benefited extraordinarily from this controversy—in the past few years, profits have skyrocketed due to high demand for sweetened but non-HFCS products.
Even though the CRA continues to maintain that their product is just as safe as sugar, new scientific evidence from Princeton University does seem to indicate that HFCS could be partially to blame for escalating national obesity rates. In their recent study, two sets of rats were given the same amount of calories, but the set that consumed HFCS products as opposed to table-sugar products were more likely to gain more weight and be affected by common health problems associated with obesity. Researchers posited that the rats who consume HFCS became more rotund because HFCS is a chemically unbounded compound, meaning it can move more freely inside the body. However, the CRA quickly moved to charge that the study involved feeding the rats a ridiculous amount of HFCS—the equivalent to 20 cans of soda per day—a quantity unrealistic when translated to humans.
While the debate will continue to rage on, some health professionals propose that Americans take a different view: that the over consumption of sweets—whether “real” sugar or non-“real” sugar—is harmful to anyone’s health. Cutting down, no matter whether you’re eating a cake made with table sugar or a soda containing high-fructose corn syrup, is probably a good idea.
About the Author: This article was written by Rasmussen College – School of Health Sciences. Founded in 1900, Rasmussen College is a premier provider of educational experiences, dedicated to the growth and development of its students, employees, and the communities it serves. Rasmussen College offers Bachelor’s and Associate’s degrees in fields with the greatest occupation opportunities to more than 15,000 students both online and through its campus locations.